A Turkish novel published more than 50 years ago is now translated into English for the first time.
Tanpinar’s style hearkens back to the great 18th-century English writers Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, for he seamlessly combines personal wit with political satire. The narrator, Hayri Irdal, presents his life story in the guise of a memoir about his (along with others’) creation of the Time Regulation Institute, charged with changing the clocks of Turkey to Western time. The institute is given the freedom to use an elaborate series of fines for those who fail to comply, and Irdal delights in the—dare one say Byzantine?—system of synchronization. Along the way, we meet a bizarre and eccentric cast of characters. Among the most memorable are his analyst, Dr. Ramiz, denizen of coffee houses and founder of the Society for Psychoanalysis (Ramiz has the modern attitude that Irdal is ill, “the fate we all share since the birth of psychoanalysis”); Halit Ayarci, who according to Irdal served as a “dear benefactor and beloved friend who plucked me from poverty and despair and made me the person I am today”; Irdal’s imperious and controlling father-in-law, Abdüsselam Bey; and Irdal’s wives, children and co-workers. At the center of the novel is Turkey’s Westernization and modernization, a task undertaken with vigor in the early 20th century and one that Tanpinar examines with great irony from the befuddled stance of Irdal.
Like all great satire, this book will make readers laugh and cringe in equal measure.